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What Makes the World Hang Together? Neo-Utilitarianism and the Social Constructivist Challenge

Author: John Gerard Ruggie
Autumn 1998
International Organization


Social constructivism in international relations has come into its own during the past decade, not only as a metatheoretical critique of currently dominant neo-utilitarian approaches (neo-realism and neoliberal institutionalism) but increasingly in the form of detailed empirical findings and theoretical insights. Constructivism addresses many of the same issues addressed by neo-utilitarianism, though from a different vantage and, therefore, with different effect. It also concerns itself with issues that neo- utilitarianism treats by assumption, discounts, ignores, or simply cannot apprehend within its characteristic ontology and/or epistemology. The constructivist project has sought to open up the relatively narrow theoretical confines of conventional approaches— by pushing them back to problematize the interests and identities of actors; deeper to incorporate the intersubjective bases of social action and social order; and into the dimensions of space and time to establish international structure as contingent practice, constraining social action but also being (re)created and, therefore, potentially transformed by it.